You possibly are or aren’t more productive when you have time off

There’s a snippy article in the Harvard Business Review that begins:

We were recently working with a company in Amsterdam, and having difficulty getting a summer meeting scheduled because of the number of executives who were on vacation. Experiencing some frustration, we began to wonder how this company actually got its work done.

Ewwww, catty.

But their VP of HR assured us, “I am confident that because of the rest and break from work that our European executives get more accomplished in their working days than those in the U.S. who burn themselves out.”

Harvard Business Review then says “this seemed worthy of some research” but you have to read it as Challenge Accepted.

After that, it gets a bit muddy. Are you more productive if you have time off? The best way to summarise the findings is in that wonderful Simpsons quote: “Short answer yes with an if; long answer no with a but”.

Read the full piece by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (HBR 17 June 2015) to see them throw statistics in your face and then try to play it both ways.

Take a year off every seven years

So there’s this fella named Stefan Sagmeister, right, and every seven years he closes his design business for the next 12 months. The obvious first thought is that this is nice for him, a second obvious thought is that you hope it’s nice for his staff if he has any – he’s not all that clear on this point – and maybe a third obvious thought is that this idea is bloody expensive.

I suspect that last, least, most unlikely obvious thought is that you’ll do this too or that you could do it too. Still, he’s very convincing about the benefits and actually rather convincing about the necessity too. Enough so that it’s making me wonder whether I’d benefit from closing my business for a minute.

How many hours a day are you actually productive?

It’s about 22:30 as I write this and I’ve worked with a few interruptions since 06:30. But you have to wonder how many minutes of actual useful work I got done.

There is a currently very brief discussion about this issue on Reddit. Part of the reason I want to tell you about this is to also point out that Reddit has useful productivity chatter. But here’s the start of this one in particular:

Taking away your bathroom breaks, lunches, Internet breaks, and staring into space, how many hours are you actually productive? This question is directed to office workers, primarily.

For me, it’s about three, MAYBE four hours. I feel like I get the same amount of work done if I come into the office for 3 or 4 hours (vs. 8 hours) because I stay focused for those 3 or 4 hours because I know I only HAVE those 3 or 4 hours…whereas during a normal 8 hour day, I’ll work for 30 minutes, get distracted for another 30, etc.

Do I just get mentally fatigued easily, or is this normal?

Reddit Productivity (24 July 2014)

Go add your tuppence, would you? But have a break first, obviously.

Take a day off

I’ve been trying to do this all week and especially after Tuesday night. I went to a book event by Pigeon Park Press and had a good time, enjoyed them, bought a book, met friends, it was great. Until I saw a photo of the event posted on Facebook and I looked like a ghost. I am secretly certain I fell asleep on the shoulder of the woman next to me.

So I took Wednesday off.


Only worked from 6:30am to 4pm, off to a thing, then back working at about 7pm.

Today I am taking today off. It is Thursday. I am on holiday.

I know this is nice for me and if you’re reading this in your one break during a ferociously busy day, I’m no longer your friend.

But that’s the thing with all this productivity: sometimes you have no choice but to keep going, as when you’re in that ferocious day. Other times you feel you have to keep going because you need the money: a freelance life has its benefits and I’m having the creative time of my life but financially stable, it ain’t. Then – this may be just me, I realise that – you feel you have to keep going because you write books about productivity and you run workshops and you talk about it all the time.

Look at that photograph. I’m the guy with his hand on his face. I swear to god I was probably holding my head up vertical. Which, if nothing else, is extraordinarily rude to the Pigeon Park people.

pigeonI can see now that the woman to my left (your right in the photo) is author Katharine D’Souza. If you see her, please apologise for me.

I’m off for a day out and I hope that you’ll be able to join me some day soon in spirit if not right now today in actuality.